i'm so over academia
February 2, 2013 1:23 PM   Subscribe

Typical senioritis/quarter life crisis question. I'm at the end of a degree that I no longer want; should I just put the blinders on and keep aiming for the grad school route or use my extra time/credit hours to focus on my own interests? I don't really know which option would have better career prospects.

I'm a first-semester senior at a highly ranked public school. I've been doing kind of a religion/sociology degree, and the plan was to go to grad school and maybe get a job as a researcher. (I'm also a first-generation college student from a lower class background so the prospect of being able to go to a top ranked grad school was appealing to me.) I enjoy research, but only in my own specific interest (i.e. I liked my independent study because I got to pick the topic, but I can't stand lectures or even seminars, if they're on a topic I'm not extremely interested in. AKA the rest of my classes.)

However, I'm also realizing that this path might not be that feasible. Not only because I feel like reading 70 pages a night isn't the best use of my time, but because I'm getting really disillusioned with the education system altogether. I've been skipping classes and putting off homework for as much as I can get away with, because I've been using that time to focus on my non-academic interests: Computer programming, audio programming, and music production. (I tried the music thing a few years ago, and it didn't really work out due to my not knowing how the industry worked...I'm also female so I know I have a strike against me in these fields...as opposed to sociology, which has a lot of women in it.)

I was also thinking of just getting through this degree and going to grad school for (probably clinical?) social work. But again, I don't know if I'm cut out for/responsible enough for grad school or being responsible for other people's lives (social work)! And I'm really not feeling so hot about the whole mountains of debt thing...I currently have no student debt and I'd like to keep it that way...

I keep trying to just buckle down and get really good grades, but it doesn't work unless I'm really 100% sure that there's an achievable goal at the end. It's hard to read 50 pages of medical sociology articles if I don't know anymore that I want to go into clinical social work. (I have to write a short paper on discrimination in the 1850's, and I just don't care. I really, really don't care! It's so irrelevant to me...) FWIW I love learning, but only on my own terms.

I know, I know, it sounds weird...clinical social work or computer programming? I don't even know if I am good at programming yet, and I don't really know what kind of job you'd get with it. I just like it so far.

TLDR I have two semesters left of school. I'm currently doing a religion major and I'm halfway into a sociology minor. I figured with a sociology minor, I could have a better chance of getting into grad school for either sociology or social work. But although I vaguely feel that I'd enjoy either of these things, I have no idea if that's true or not. I feel like it's too late to do internships, especially with all the competition out there for social science internships I'm not really counting on it. I'm kind of ready to get out of academia altogether, and I'm thinking of just dropping my sociology minor and use the credit hours to learn computer programming and audio production/computer music.

I'm open to getting a "stable" job and keeping my hobbies as just hobbies, but again I don't know if I could handle grad school or even a 9-5 desk job...I know you have to "deal with" work life but I just don't have the personality...and part of me says that it'd be easier to get into either programming or music than it would be to get into research/social sciences.

(I'm also scared that computer programming is a short-lived career...my dad used to work with computers but the technology moved so fast that he was irrelevant within 10 years...)

Please just tell me like it is! Thanks!
posted by lhude sing cuccu to Education (13 answers total)
I would give yourself a break from academia. There was no way on earth I could have gone straight from my BA into grad school. I was like you -- a good student and interested in learning more, but just DONE with the university environment. I took a break and worked a "job job" and came back to a graduate program a much better student.

As to the specifics of getting some programming experience, other people can probably speak more directly to that, but from what I've seen... 1) don't in any way consider being a woman "a strike against you" in programming. If you're interested in it - do it. 2.) Don't consider programming a short-lived career. You'll need to keep up with new tools and technologies of course, but good computer programmers can have long rewarding careers.

Hang in there - grad school will always be there!
posted by pantarei70 at 1:38 PM on February 2, 2013

Heh - so I agree with pantarei70 - if you aren't sure are about grad school now, don't go now. You can always start later, two people in my program started after sending their kids to college. Also, if you aren't getting paid to attend a program, don't attend.

Go visit your university career center and talk to them! Go to career fairs and ask for informational interviews from jobs that sounds interesting. Apply for different jobs and try them out, if something doesn't work, try something else. Your career is not going to be set in stone.

Lastly, anyone who tells you that being female is a mark against you can go fuck themselves.
posted by florencetnoa at 1:53 PM on February 2, 2013 [5 favorites]

Oh god, whatever you do, don't go straight into grad school in this frame of mind. Grad school should be an option of last resort at this point, a choice you only make if and when you exhaust other options, and also only if you feel a strong calling for the specific subject you'd be studying. Realizing that you can still have the intellectual life you want outside of school, while doing something else (or loosely related) to make your living, is a hugely freeing thing. You should take some time — years, ideally — once you're out of school to explore the working world and see where you might fit into it. If clinical social work interests you, you can find a non-degree-requiring job in the field and do the degree later. If tech interests you, you can look for jobs in the field and learn more about programming later. You don't have to acquire all the skills (or certifications) you might ever want up front.
posted by RogerB at 1:55 PM on February 2, 2013 [3 favorites]

So, I can't speak to the general question here, but as a woman in computer science I can tell you that being a woman isn't a "strike against you" in this field. It makes you unusual and you might end up in situations that aren't comfortable (realize you're at a party with 40 people, everyone is drunk, and you're the only woman in the room? Awkward) but every major employer of computer programmers is enthusiastic about hiring more women. Many of them sponsor scholarships and special programs for us, in fact.

And I don't know what your dad was doing "working with computers" but I work with many guys who have been doing this for 30 years. I think they'd all say if you're made irrelevant by technological change it's because you're doing it wrong, not because of the field itself. Certainly the major languages people use haven't changed significantly in the 5 years I've been working as a software engineer, and in fact I use a much older language now than I did when I started...
posted by town of cats at 1:57 PM on February 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

should I just put the blinders on and keep aiming for the grad school route or use my extra time/credit hours to focus on my own interests? I don't really know which option would have better career prospects.

I don't know you and I don't have enough information to forecast your career prospects. But grad school is a pretty big investment of time and money, and I think it's generally not a good idea to undertake a graduate degree course unless you are very motivated and fairly certain that it will help you advance in a career that will be both remunerative and personally satisfying. Maybe I overlooked something, but I don't see a single sentence in your post that says anything about why you want to do clinical social work, or whether you have enough exposure to the profession to have a good idea what the job entails on a day-to-day basis.

So I'd encourage you to look to your interests for a career path, with a couple of qualifiers.

First, if you're like most people, your interests will continue to develop as you go through your 20s. You may get more intensely interested in one of the areas you're interested in now, or you may discover new areas of interest. My point is that you don't have to pick a single interest right now and commit to following it for the rest of your life. I suggest that you approach the job market with the attitude of being willing to give a job a good try for a while, but also leaving yourself open to move on to something different in a few years.

Second, there's a balance to be struck between pursuing one's interests at all costs, or with unrealistic expectations, and going after a job that's attainable and lets you have a good quality of life. A little research can help you assess the prospects. I assume your college has some kind of a career center: have you chatted with the counselors there about how your interests might suit you to different jobs? Have you done as many internships or part-time jobs as you can in the fields that interest you?
posted by Orinda at 1:58 PM on February 2, 2013

I am not your professor, but I am a professor. You need to be ridiculously enthusiastic about your discipline to go to grad school. Don't go.

If you change your mind later, grad school will still be there. But if you go now and flunk out, you are closing that door, probably forever. And tacking up some debt for nothing.
posted by LarryC at 2:02 PM on February 2, 2013 [7 favorites]

This question reads to me like: should i pursue this very difficult path that doesn't pay well and causes many people to burn out even though I'm not that passionate about it, or should I pursue this well-paying interest that I'm passionate about?

I'd use your electives to learn programming, get a job in that field, read about sociology and do music production as a hobby, and after a few years perhaps consider grad school for sociology or music production.
posted by salvia at 2:57 PM on February 2, 2013

don't go to grad school, for the love of god; it can wait, and you shouldn't be getting a grad degree unless someone else is paying for it...either an employer, or a bunch of merit scholarships or departmental funding, etc.

use the credits you have left to learn some CS skills and go do that, learn more about it. the better you get at it, the more flexible your career can be (in terms of work life balance, hours, etc). i know some folks who have a personality like yours (they are also not cut out for 9-5 desk jobs) who are making great professional salaries doing various CS jobs. they are good at what they do because they LOVE what they do and are always learning new things and refining existing skills. genuine enthusiasm for your work is such an advantage.

being a woman in a scientific field is not a strike against you! if anything, the big and high paying employers in CS and engineering want to hire more women, to show they are diverse.
posted by zdravo at 3:08 PM on February 2, 2013

I'm thinking of just dropping my sociology minor and use the credit hours to learn computer programming and audio production/computer music.

How much CS coursework do you have already? Are you familiar with at least one common programming language to the point where you could use it in an intermediate CS course on algorithms or data structures? How close are you to fulfilling the requirements for CS or software engineering minors, if your school offers them? Have you been able to collaborate on a real-world project, or are you making concrete plans to do so in the coming few months? Because without some kind of demonstrable background, preparation, or experience, all this talk of "instead of going to grad school, just get a well-paid job in computers!!" is really just talk.
posted by Nomyte at 3:11 PM on February 2, 2013 [2 favorites]

Nomyte: True. I'm only in one intro class, we are learning Python and I am also teaching myself Python on the side to fill in some gaps. It's too late for a minor (I asked), but I do want to take more classes during my last semester. But yes. Thanks for mentioning that. One of my worries is that it's way too early to be able to officially decide that I even like it yet.
posted by lhude sing cuccu at 3:37 PM on February 2, 2013

This is the complicated option that will involve additional debt, but consider talking to a counselor about staying on for a fifth year (or even just an extra semester, or whatever it takes to pick up some extra experience and maybe an internship). I realize that it's extra loans and extra time in school, but if I were you, I would do everything possible to make sure I graduated with a future ahead of me. If it's not graduate school, then it should at least be "marketable" experience.

I say that because my senior year in undergrad was a desperate gauntlet of unmet expectations that ended with me just wanting to graduate and get a decent job. I graduated and it sucked. It took me two years to get on my feet, and I'm still way behind my peers who made more effective plans. That includes those who got jobs as well as those who went to grad school, and are now finishing up.
posted by Nomyte at 4:18 PM on February 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'd strongly suggest taking a year off, with one caveat: because you're a first-generation student, don't move home and live with your parents or get "comfortable" in any way that will tempt you to do less that you're capable of. But I took a year off after undergrad (when I felt so burnt out I thought I'd never be able to go back), and now I can't wait to be back in school again.
posted by stoneandstar at 11:02 PM on February 2, 2013

Dig into the programming, given your other courseork, look at user experience/user centered design. There are pretty clear mappings between social science research skills and user research, which is relly the foundation on which the other aspects of user experience design. I would also argue that a basis in religious studies has a place too.

And yeah. Do not go to grad school, not yet at least.
posted by Good Brain at 1:56 AM on February 3, 2013 [2 favorites]

« Older Can I fix my Elna?   |   Best Anatomy/Physiology Videos on Youtube? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.